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Learning curve steep, but debates key: NDI

Candidates from all 10 political parties competing in the June 3 commune elections will vie for voter support in a series of commune-level debates intended to better inform voters, debate organisers said yesterday.

The NGO National Democratic Institute, which promotes transparency and accountability in government, is organising the debates in 10 provinces that will be aired nationwide, with the aim of fostering critical debate on concrete issues.

“There is no concept of political platforms here, and it would be hard for a voter to tell the difference between each of the parties,” NDI country director Laura Thornton said yesterday on the first day of a week-long debate training for candidates.

“In campaign training in February and March, some of the parties struggled with the simple question: ‘Why should I vote for you?’ and these debates will focus on concrete issues voiced by voters for the candidates to address,” Thornton said.

Thornton said debates were still an unfamiliar concept and NDI aimed to encourage heated debates that would help voters weigh their options.

Although this is the third commune election held in Cambodia since UNTAC, the National Election Committee only last week published principles for electoral debate.

NEC press officer Keo Mono referred all questions to secretary-general Tep Nytha, who could not be contacted yesterday.

The official campaign period begins this Sunday.

Today, all 10 political parties will sign a Code of Conduct negotiated amongst themselves with the oversight of election monitor Comfrel.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said it was important for parties to agree to a code and refrain from violence or intimidation as Cambodia is “still a very fragile state”.

“I hope there will be no violence, but we still consider election work to be very high risk,” he said yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com

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